Brandon Garland wore out the Rebels with 12 strikeouts, tossing a complete game and leading the Blue Devils to a 6-2 victory in the winners' bracket final of the District 1-AA baseball tournament at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
Unicoi improved to 25-7 and earned a berth in next week's region tournament.
“That's was the focus for both teams I'm sure, making it to the region,” said Unicoi head coach Charlie Baxter.
South (21-9) will have to fight off Sullivan East to get there. In the losers' bracket semifinal, East stayed alive with a 4-2 win over Elizabethton. The Patriots (16-15) will meet the Rebels today at 6 p.m. in the losers' bracket final.
Garland (5-1) allowed a run to score in the bottom of the first inning with a wild pitch, but he was in control the rest of the way. He struck out five straight batters in one stretch, and three in a row in another.
Many times, Garland simply overpowered South's hitters with his fastball.
“It looked that way to me,” said Baxter. “He had good location, but the ball just exploded to the plate. I haven't seen that in years.”
Not only does Garland have a good arm, he's confident.
“I've never seen him get shook,” said Baxter. “He's confident all the time. He doesn't pitch like a 15-year-old.”
Garland finished with a four-hitter, walking three and allowing just one earned run. He said he wasn't awed by the situation.
“I'm never nervous on the mound,” said Garland. “That's what I do. I love it. I just work hard, and do what I'm supposed to do when I'm supposed to do it — and it shows on the field.”
It was Garland's second dominant outing at J. Fred Johnson as he limited Class AAA power Dobyns-Bennett to one hit in a 2-1 loss last week.
“I always pitch good on this field,” he said. “(The D-B game) was one of the best games I've ever pitched.”
After falling behind 1-0, Unicoi scored a pair of unearned runs in the second inning with Will Hubbard driving in a run on a groundout, and freshman Dylan Putman hitting a sacrifice fly.
The Blue Devils struck for four runs in the fourth inning. Putman started the frenzy with a bases-loaded walk, and Ethan Rice added an RBI single.
With one out, Austin Green hit a sacrifice fly and South messed up the throw in, falling asleep as the runner went from first to second and then dropping a sure out at the plate when Nathan Derry broke from third base and scored as the ball got away.
The Rebels cut the deficit to 6-2 in the fifth inning with Charlie McCann's RBI single.
Rice finished with two hits for the Blue Devils, who got two RBIs from Putman and two runs from Ryan Lingerfelt.
Sullivan East 4, Elizabethton 1
The Cyclones didn't bring their A game defensively, and the Patriots finally made them pay.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Patriots loaded the bases with nobody out — thanks to a swinging-bunt single, an error, and a walk. Then Curt Lunceford ripped a game-tying single up the middle.
The next batter hit a soft roller to shortstop with a drawn-in infield. The ball was booted, and then thrown down the right field line. Instead of the game still being tied, it was 4-2 in favor of East.
Patriots head coach Mike Breuninger acknowledged the value of putting the ball in play throughout the game and forcing the Cyclones to make plays, but also commended his pitching staff.
“Pitching can take you a long way,” said Breuninger. “It's no secret we've struggled offensively all year, but pitching has carried us.”
Hunter Stratton worked six strong innings to get the win for the Patriots. B.J. Murray finished up for the save.
Bo Pless was the tough-luck loser for Elizabethton. He went five-plus innings, allowing four runs but only one was earned.
Hunter Hodges led the Cyclones (16-22) at the plate with a pair of doubles.
Follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.